January 12, 2014

Interview With Gary Mossman, Author of Lloyd Percival: Coach And Visionary

Recently we discussed Gary Mossman's new book - Lloyd Percival: Coach and Visionary. In many ways it is a book about the most important hockey book ever written. Here is the full book review for further information. Buy the Book: Amazon.caChapters - Amazon.com

Below is the transcript of an email interview I did with Mr. Mossman about his new book.

Question -  What made you decide to write a book about Lloyd Percival?

Answer -   Throughout his life, Lloyd Percival helped numerous Olympians, never charging them any money for his time and expertise. He spent the summer of 1952 training the Canadian Olympic canoeing team. The result was a silver medal for Ken Lane and Don Hawgood in the 10,000 meter Canadian Singles - one of only three medals won by Canadians in Helsinki - and later, a close relationship with my father, Jim Mossman, who coached the Canadian Olympic canoeing team throughout the 1960’s and was Technical Director of the Canadian Canoe Association from 1972-1976. Many years later, my father and I were having lunch and he was recalling some of the remarkable stories about Lloyd. A little research revealed that nothing substantial had been written about Percival since he died in 1974 and I decided to rectify the situation.

Question -   Would you say The Hockey Handbook was the most important book in hockey history?
Answer -    I think it would be fair to say that “The Hockey Handbook” (1951) is the most important book in hockey history. It stood alone for thirty years and some experts say it is still the most complete hockey instruction book ever written. NHL coaches tried to ignore it; however, for minor hockey coaches and college coaches in Canada and the United States it was  essential reading. The first real instruction book for hockey was Percival’s, “How to Play Better Hockey”, published in 1946. It holds a special place in hockey history because Anatoly Tarasov  was probably given a copy in 1951. It was the first hockey instruction book he read and the basic philosophy and style of Russian hockey were derived from it. “The Hockey Handbook”; however, was much bigger and more detailed. We know that Tarasov shipped 500 copies from New York in 1955 and that it was translated into Russian. The book was also the primary source for hockey instruction in Sweden, Finland and Czechoslovakia.  When Russian and European hockey players, as well as American college players, began impacting on the training of Canadian hockey players and the style of play in the NHL, it was a style of hockey, derived from the pages of  ”The Hockey Handbook” that paved the way for the “New NHL”. 
Question -  While Europeans, especially the Russians, loved the book, Canadians dismissed it and mocked it. Why?

Answer -   Canadian hockey is built on tradition and has never easily accepted change. Until recent decades it was a blue collar sport. Hockey players did not go to college, or university and coaches were retired, ex-players (professional hockey, like baseball, lagged behind football and basketball for this reason). Although he was self-educated, Percival was perceived as a “college guy”, an outsider, and Canadian professional hockey people did not want to listen to him. According to them, there was no need, because Canada produced the best hockey players in the world and the NHL was far and away the best hockey league in the world. It was not until the Summit Series of 1972 that Canadians began to question their dominance of world hockey and it was another dozen years before real change began. Sadly, Percival died in 1974 and received only scant recognition for his knowledge and his prescience.

Question  -   Lloyd Percival died in 1974. Did he ever realize how big of an impact his book had on Russian hockey? Did Anatoli Tarasov ever get a chance to further talk with Percival?
Answer -  Yes. On at least two occasions, Tarasov visited Percival at his health and fitness centre in Toronto, The Fitness Institute. While Tarasov was reluctant to admit to Russians that there were any foreign influences in the evolution of Russian hockey. He was free with praise for Percival when they were together, as well as when he spoke with American hockey experts, such as Lou Vairo. On one of his visits (in 1969), Tarasov gave Percival a copy of his book “Russian Hockey Secrets: Road to Olympus,” with the inscription:
“Respectfully to Lloyd, Your wonderful book which introduced us to the mysteries of Canadian Hockey, I have read like a schoolboy. Thank you for a hockey science which is significant to the hockey world.”
The performance of the Russians  at the Summit Series of 1972 was a complete surprise to almost every Canadian, except for Lloyd Percival, who not only warned us about how good the Russians would be, but offered Team Canada advice on how to counteract the Russian strengths, advice which was rejected by the Canadian coaches. Percival was naturally proud to see his hockey theories played to perfection by the Russians, but he was a loyal Canadian and was saddened to see Team Canada struggle. He said at the time “it didn’t have had to be that way.”
Question - The book was reproduced and updated over the years. Does it remain pertinent in today's day and age?

Answer     Percival published a second edition of “The Hockey Handbook” in 1959; however, the changes were insignificant. When he died in 1974, Percival was working on a significant overhaul of the book which would have taken into account the contribution of Tarasov and the evolution of hockey in Europe. In the 1990’s, Larry Sadler led an initiative to update the book. The authors “were surprised at how much detailed, technical information was in the book” and decided to change very little. The revised edition is still in print and it would be very difficult to name a better hockey instruction book than this.

Question -  Percival was interested in improving athletic performance in many sports. What famous athletes did he work with?

Answer -  Many NHL coaches forbade their players from working with Percival, although some players ignored their coaches and the Detroit Red Wing (1951-1955 and 1972-1973) and the Minnesota North Stars (1967-1969) hired Percival to work with their teams. Of the NHL players, Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuk were Percival’s finest students, with Sawchuk in particular owing some of his Hall of Fame stats to Percival’s stretching program, co-ordination drills and diet.

Outside of the NHL, athletes who benefitted from Percival’s scientific understanding of sport training included Olympic medalists Lane and Hawgood, Roger Jackson (rowing, gold 1964), John Wood (canoeing, silver 1976) and Toller Cranston ( figure skating, bronze 1976), as well as boxer, George Chuvalo; golfers, George Knudson and Al Balding; cyclist, Jocelyn Lovell; divers Beverly Boys and Nancy Robertson; figure skaters, Sandra and Val Bezic; tennis player, Peter Burwash; football players Dave Raimey and Jim Corrigal, water-ski world champion, George Athans jr.; fastball pitcher, Bob Domik and skiers, Judy Crawford and Jungle Jim Hunter. 

Buy the Book: Amazon.ca - Chapters - Amazon.com

Also, if you are in Toronto on January 23rd, 2014, be sure to head down to Toronto Public Library to listen to Gary Mossman read from Lloyd Percival: Coach and Visionary.


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